Exam boards target social media in cheating crackdown

PIC: PA
PIC: PA
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Exam boards have set up dedicated teams to monitor social media as part of moves to clamp down on cheating.

A “huge amount” of time and effort is spent looking for signs and indications of malpractice in exams online, exam chiefs said.

The comments came as the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) - which represents UK exam boards - announced an independent inquiry into exam malpractice.

Malpractice is still “extremely rare”, it was suggested, and official figures show that last year, 2,715 penalties were issued to candidates (0.01%), along with 895 to school staff and 120 to schools and colleges.

Sanctions issued to candidates were overwhelmingly for possession of a mobile phone in an exam, the JCQ noted.

Announcing the new commission, to be led by Sir John Dunford, Mark Bedlow of the OCR exam board said: “Malpractice that is deliberate is still extremely rare.

“But we are seeing the occasional story pop up and it is getting profile and we are also seeing students increasingly use technology in different ways.”

He added that a lot of work is already done to combat malpractice, but more can be done to look at issues such as the role of social media, and to understand the reasons for malpractice.

Alex Scharaschkin of the AQA exam board said awarding bodies are conscious of the fact that there are different ways in which information can be shared.

Mr Bedlow said: “There’s all this technology change that’s going on. We spend a huge amount of effort and time monitoring social media, to look for signs and indicators of malpractice.”

However there are ways of subverting this, for example through secure communication systems.

He added that the board has people examining social media platforms throughout the year.

The commission is due to begin its work in September, with a final report published next spring.

Exam chiefs insisted that the inquiry is not a response to any particular issue, but is part of ongoing work to prevent malpractice.

The announcement comes just weeks before teenagers across the country learn their GCSE and A-level results.

Last month it was revealed that exams regulator Ofqual had launched an investigation after an A-level maths paper was allegedly leaked online, just a day before thousands of students were due to sit the paper.

Earlier this year, the JCQ issued a video reminding students that mobile phones are banned from the exam hall, and the consequences of flouting the ban.